VATICAN CITY—The difficulties faced by families with disabled children must be shared by civil society and the Church, Pope John Paul II said.
Though family love for disabled children is indispensable, care for disabled children also requires wider community participation, he said.
“When children are most needy and exposed to the risk of being rejected by others, it is above all the family which best can teach them their equal dignity with respect to healthy children,” the Pope told participants of a Vatican family conference Dec. 4.
Faced with the complexities of raising a disabled child, families have the right to community support, he said.
“Parents must be encouraged to face the certainly not easy situation without closing in on themselves,” he said. “It is important that the problem be shared by competent people, friends, in addition to close family members.”
The Vatican conference Dec. 2-4, called “The Family and Integration of the Disabled Child in Infancy and Adolescence,” was organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Spanish “Special Family Education” center, and the Venezuelan “Leopold Program.”
The Holy Father said that “the values of faith can come to the aid of human values” to ensure respect for the personal dignity of disabled children.
Authentic Christian solidarity shown by families for their disabled children is “the most convincing response to those who consider disabled children a burden, or worse, not worthy of fully living the gift of existence,” he said.
“The value of existence transcends that of efficiency,” he said. “Welcoming the weakest, aiding them in their journey, is a sign of civilization.”
The family was indispensable in providing love and attention to disabled children, “but with difficulty succeeds in attaining satisfactory results with only its own efforts.”
Specialized associations for disabled children and other forms of help were necessary, he said, to ensure “the presence of people with whom the disabled child can dialogue and establish relationships of education and friendship.”
Church pastors must help parents understand and accept that life is always a gift from God, even when marked by suffering and infirmity, he said.Catholics, as believers in Christ, have an additional source of support: prayer.
Through prayer, the family will “learn to accept, love and value the child marked by suffering,” the Pope concluded.